photo of porcupine meatballs

Porcupine Meatballs

Here in my Coalcracker Kitchen, the temperatures are climbing as we head into summer. Heat and humidity make doing the simplest of tasks miserable.

But we still need to eat.. Even though my tendency can be to think cold foods during a stretch of hot weather, I find that I often feel less than satisfied if my entire day is devoid of a hot, or at least warm, meal; I then wind up eating “snack foods” far too much throughout the day.

So, I turn to my trusty file of never-fail recipes passed down to me from my Mom who spent many a day in a hot coal region home’s kitchen, with only a small fan located on the top of “the ice box” (refrigerator) blowing in her direction. Summer weather and heat in my kitchen vividly bring that scene to mind; the clouds threaten to turn into a downpour with thunder and lightening from every side, yet the weather teeters on the very edge of granting a little relief, not yet ready to give you a reprieve from the oppressive heat and humidity even if only for a fleeting few minutes as the rain pours down and the wind kicks up.

Mom and I would sit at the old chrome and vinyl kitchen table set and discuss if it was the kind of day you should start to cook something or not for fear of losing electricity in the midst of making dinner. More often than not, we would decide to surge ahead with plans and spring into action, me gathering ingredients, Mom scooping up utensils, bowls, and pans.

It seemed we always had the items needed for porcupine meatballs in the freezer, fridge, and pantry. I like to think of them as halupki filling (cabbage rolls) sans the cabbage wrapper. And let’s face it, as much as I adore halupki, there is no way I am going to wrestle with coring a cabbage and steaming off individual leaves on a hot summer day no matter how deep my love for them runs! (Alas, the last batch of halupki in the freezer is no more and needs replenishing – but not in the middle of summer.)

Porcupine meatballs are a real retro favorite of mine, developed during the depression to stretch the amount of ground meat cooks could obtain or the budget would allow. Once the meatballs are cooked the rice sticks out of the sides resembling porcupine quills. They are a great budget-friendly meal and kids love them, especially when they learn the name of these saucy meatballs. I always make mine the way Mom did; in a sauce based on condensed tomato soup (some recipes use tomato sauce).

I also follow Mom’s method by mixing ground beef with a little ground pork, but you can use all ground beef like many cooks do, just as with halupki, I love these served alongside rich and creamy freshly mashed potatoes, and I use a little of the sauce from the meatballs as “gravy” on my potatoes.

If you are looking for a cool and creamy side dish to serve alongside these meatballs, my Creamed Cucumbers are a perfect choice.

An Easy Dish Made Even Easier

This recipe calls for browning the meatballs before simmering in the sauce which is my personal preference – I like the intensity of flavor I believe it adds. You can skip this step if you prefer and simmer the meatballs right in the sauce, but be sure to use lean ground beef because the meatballs will give up fat which will then become part of the sauce. Browning them first renders some fat off into the pan where it can be easily drained off before adding the sauce ingredients. You may find you need to add some more water to maintain the level of sauce necessary to cook the meatballs through as you go..

Porcupine Meatballs

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: EntreeCuisine: Coal Region, Pa. DutchDifficulty: Easy

Budget-friendly ground beef and rice balls simmered in a savory sauce.


  • Meatballs
  • 1 – 10.75 ounce can condensed tomato soup, divided

  • 3/4 pound 80/20 ground beef and 1/4 pound ground pork OR 1 pound ground beef

  • 1/3 cup uncooked white rice

  • 1 egg

  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion

  • 1 Tablespoons fresh minced parsley OR 1 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • Sauce
  • Reserved condensed tomato soup from meatballs (see “DIRECTIONS”)

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper


  • Place 1/4 cup of the condensed tomato soup from the can into a mixing bowl and add the ground meat, rice, egg, minced onion, parsley, salt, garlic powder, celery salt, and pepper.
  • Mix well and form into approximately 16 balls.
  • In large frying pan, place 2 Tablespoons oil or shortening and brown the meatballs on all sides.
  • Pour in the remaining condensed tomato soup and 1 cup water. along with the brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and black pepper. Stir.
  • Cover and simmer about 45 minutes or until rice is tender and meatballs are cooked through, stirring occasionally.